OWL Magazine Korea

The Difference According to Steve Jobs on ‘A-Players’

I happened to come across a video on YouTube where Steve Jobs discusses the difference between ‘A-Players’ and ‘B, C-Players.’ Although Steve Jobs is no longer with us, he remains a figure known for introducing innovative products, establishing Apple as a leading global company, and presenting iconic products like the iPhone, iPad, and MacBook.

“Steve Jobs on the Characteristics of A-Players”

The video, around 7 minutes long, succinctly conveys the following: ‘A-Players’ are self-driven problem solvers who, when provided with shared values, can find tasks and solve problems independently, eliminating the need for separate management.

Especially in the realm of software compared to hardware, the gap between ‘A,’ ‘B,’ and ‘C-Players’ is even more substantial. Jobs suggests that in terms of talent, one ‘A-Player’ can deliver over 50 times the performance of an average individual, particularly emphasizing the considerable disparity in the software field.

“Traits of A-Players”

Moreover, Jobs mentions in the video that ‘A-Players’ seek to work with individuals who surpass their own capabilities. This characteristic is also evident in the biography of Steve Jobs.

Around 2011, when Steve Jobs officially took medical leave due to his deteriorating health, Google’s co-founder Larry Page visited him. Page had plans to take over the command of the company again, transitioning from Eric Schmidt to become Google’s CEO. He sought advice from Steve Jobs on how to be a good CEO, and their conversation unfolded as follows:

“We talked about the focus. We also talked about hiring people. How to find trustworthy people, how to build a reliable management team, and so on. I explained how I was going to prevent the company from getting bloated and how we were going to avoid having B-Players and C-Players. Steve said, ‘That’s not my experience. When I look back, I see that the structures and organizations are not the problems. B-Players recruit B-Players, and C-Players recruit C-Players. The A-Players like to work with other A-Players.'”

Steve Jobs was wary of B-Players not because of their individual capabilities but because he believed that organizations fostering a culture accepting B-Player results and work attitudes are problematic. In such a culture, A-Players eventually leave, causing significant losses for the entire company.

“Creating A-Players for an All-Star Team?”

This concept aligns with a meaningful article contributed by Bain & Company’s Jang Ji-taek (CEO) and Ahn Hee-jae (Executive) that suggests gathering A-Players to form a specialized unit produces even better results.

Rather than dispersing A-Players across various departments, placing them together in one place, like a special forces unit, generates more significant synergies. A parallel example is the U.S. Navy SEALs, an elite military unit composed solely of the best soldiers. Their synergy, when grouped together, is not merely 100 times more powerful than an average soldier team but rather 150 to 200 times.

This analogy can be applied to companies. A team composed of the best talents yields much more powerful results than a team of average talents.

While it may be a similar case, sports players wanting to play in the world’s top leagues and for the best teams might share a similar principle. Ultimately, the level of one’s teammates reflects one’s own level. Individual morale leads to team morale, and a team of exceptional players can possess much more formidable destructive power compared to a team of ordinary players.